Engineers of Victory by Paul Kennedy

This book was certainly an interesting surprise.  I was expecting something more specific about equipment and weapons development during the Second World War.  The subtitle is about “Problem Solvers”.  It might have been better called something like “How Things got Done”; or a “celebration of mid-level leaders”.

The 370 pages of text are broken into five lengthy chapters examining different critical campaigns from January 1943 to July 1944, and looking at the nuts and bolts of how they were won by the allies.  It certainly isn’t a narrative history, more of a deep analysis.  And that may be the very thing that kept it interesting for someone who has read far more on this period of time than I can even remember.  The five campaigns, or specific challenges, dealt with here are The Battle of the Atlantic, Winning Air Superiority over Western Europe, Stopping the Wehrmacht, Amphibious Operations in Europe and Conquering the Vast Distances of the Pacific.

In each of these chapters the author weaves together all the details, the complexity, the interconnectedness of things needed to make things work.  I found that fascinating from beginning to end.  It is so often true when we read campaign or battle histories we come up short on greater context, but this book provides context in abundance and helps us keep track of how all the details come together. Whether its the cavity magnetron, T-34 testing at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, mating the Merlin to the Mustang or ambhibious theory by Pete Ellis; there is just a staggering level of stuff here.  As is so often the case with “big picture” stories like this there are several detail errors on little things, naturally I most notice it on aircraft but I’m sure other readers will have some other little nits to pick.  But it really is just in the little stuff I have some complaints.

Fascinating and fun book.

~ Dave 


About atcDave

I'm 54 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 31 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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16 Responses to Engineers of Victory by Paul Kennedy

  1. jfwknifton says:

    Sounds an excellent book. I always enjoy a book with a new angle on what you think are well known historical events.

  2. Sounds good, I tend to enjoy the technical and factual books and an analysis of these events is always an interesting read.

  3. Ernie Davis says:

    I’ve never followed the history of the pacific as much as Europe, but I have always thought that the staggering scale of the Pacific war and the logistics of how to support it was something I needed to look in to at some point.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah the Pacific has a very different dynamic to it. In terms of fighting men and weapons it was a much smaller war, at least until about mid ’44. But the logistics of it are staggering; and more than anything else that was the decisive factor. I’ve always loved it as a war gamer; having to pick fights all about distances, supplies, routes…
      I would normally hesitate to recommend an analytical type history before a good narrative one; but the writer here does a great job of dealing with the scope of it all. And that may actually make it a terrific introduction.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I do have a pretty good general knowledge of the narrative history of the Pacific theaters (Except CBI is still pretty much a mystery outside “Bridge on the River Kwai or Flying Tigers”). I am aware of the major sea and land battles and their consequences. I may give it a try while on vacation.

      • atcDave says:

        Cool. Let me know if you have any other thoughts on it. Unless, you know, you think I’m a total idiot for liking the book. Keep that to yourself.
        CBI is interesting, even if not much is written about it. The period covered here was mostly stagnant though. But one thing, many analysts consider William Slim the best British general of WWII and he fought in the CBI.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        It has always struck me, and I may have said it before, that by 1941 China had ground to a stalemate for Japan, and aside from the burst of post Pearl Harbor in the Burma and India parts of that theater, it remained so for the majority of the war. Plenty of brutal fighting and heroic efforts to break the stalemate mind you, and some very brave and innovative efforts to break the supply chain problems, but it seems to me everyone was pretty much stuck with their situation and what they had as resources by early 1942.

      • atcDave says:

        There were campaigns and movement. It was actually alarming how, in China, Japan was able to wage effective offensives almost the end. There were significant operations, including regular and irregular, in India and Burma too. But it was significantly a backwater and an area of some dispute between Americans and British (Churchill was worried about “Empire”, which FDR did not want anything to do with; while Americans were more interested in China which the British considered hopeless and corrupt).
        And hey, it’s the one place where M3 Grant/Lee tanks were in use to the end of the war.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Just to let you know, I got it and as I near the end of the Battle of the Atlantic, I’m pretty impressed. Only drawback was the slight snarkiness about those who bought the Bletchley Park meme that make for a far better movie than a realization that 4 escorts and prayer won’t protect a convoy.

      • atcDave says:

        He does get snarky at times!
        I think his main objection, on several levels, is towards those who push one issue as the thing that won the war. And there have been several such claims about Ultra in recent years.
        And a lot of that is just typical with academics, kind of a snarky group.

        I’m glad you’re liking it so far!

      • Ernie Davis says:

        No, I get it, he has a point. A couple of Canadian Aircraft mechanics adding an extra fuel tank to a B24 contributed just as much to that eventual victory, as did the change in doctrine and improved radars. Just thought it could have been done with a more generous tone for those of us who don’t read original source material for fun.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah I do agree about that.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I do love books that break a few myths. One of my favorites was that RAF pilots wore silk scarves out of some sort of vanity, when in fact it was just because they had to have their heads on a constant swivel, and their woolen uniforms chafed their necks.

      • atcDave says:

        Or that Sherman tanks just explode as soon as they see a panzer…

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